To everybody's relief, astronauts fixed the toilet at the international space station Wednesday and opened up a new science lab.
The toilet problem had fast become the most pressing issue of the mission, so much so that a spare pump was rushed from Moscow to Cape Canaveral last week for a last-minute ride aboard space shuttle Discovery.
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Russian Oleg Kononenko put in the new pump, and the toilet started working again.
For two weeks, the three men living aboard the space station had to manually flush the Russian-built toilet with extra water several times a day. It was a time-consuming job and waste of water, not to mention an unpleasant chore.
So everyone was thrilled that the new pump seemed to solve the problem.
“Let's start using it,” Russian Mission Control told Kononenko. “We'll keep our fingers crossed.”
The space station's toilet woes seemed to capture the world's attention. It ended up being the main topic of conversation at NASA news conferences, with suit-and-tie managers having to describe the ins and outs of using the restroom in weightlessness.
“It's unfortunate we're talking about toilets, but that really is the life, that's the future of human exploration in space,” Kirk Shireman, deputy space station program manager, said Tuesday night.
“I don't take it as a really bad thing. It's just something perhaps everyday people can really relate to,” he said.
The door to the billion-dollar Japanese lab – named Kibo, Japanese for “hope” – was swung open late Wednesday afternoon, a day after its installation at the space station.
At 37 feet and the size of a bus, Kibo is the largest of the nine rooms now at the space station.
Two astronauts will float back outside today to set up Kibo's TV cameras and remove covers on its robot arm.